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Intellectual Property P2P - Fanfiction as Emerging Genre

aseidman's picture


Intellectual Property P2P – Fanfiction as Emerging Genre


Fanfiction is bizarre. For one thing, as my word-processing software has already noticed, “fanfiction” isn’t even a proper, recognized word in the English language. On the popular website Wikipedia, members of the internet community have defined fanfiction as “fan labor regarding stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published.(Wikipedia).” In recent years, fanfiction websites and journals have been cropping up all over the internet providing amateur writers with places to upload their original stories about unoriginal characters, and the phenomenon has become so popular that has developed rules, terminology, and carefully monitored archives of its own. The purpose of this paper is to examine the burgeoning new genre called “fanfiction,” and to try and gain a better understanding of how it functions in conjunction[1] with the rest of the literary world. (, occasionally referred to amongst the internet community as “,” is an internet archive where any author can post a story in one of hundreds of categories. These categories, called “fandoms” are based around different works of fiction by different authors. For example, Harry Potter, the series of novels by J.K. Rowling, has its own fandom, and one can browse through the site in order to find the place where one can upload and read Harry Potter fanfiction.

Because of the way that fanfiction is archived, it seems to be taking advantage of internet databasing tools to provide it’s readers with a whole new way of considering the fluidity and multifaceted nature of genre, or genre-based thinking. Take, for example, a certain work of fanfiction entitled “221B Stories ([2] Ed Folsom, in his article on databasing “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives,”  writes that “Felix Guattari’s preferred image of the rhizome,” “[is] the subterranean stem that grows every which way and represents the nomadic multiplicity of identity – no central root, but an intertwined web of roots (Folsom 1573).” The classification of these fanfiction stories seems to very effectively echo Guttari’s idea of how stories should be classified – identified in multiple different ways, all of which can be tied together  to create new classifications. For example, “221B Stories” can be found by anyone who is searching for Sherlock Holmes fanfiction which falls under the category of “Adventure”, or of the rating of “T” for teen. They can also search within the category of “Adventure” for only stories that are rated “T,” or within the category of “T” rated stories for only stories which contain the category of “Adventure.” ” In order to access this work from the home page of, one may do one of several things. One may choose the link that says “Books,” and follow through to the link that leads them to the “Sherlock Holmes” fanfiction category. Within the Sherlock Holmes fandom, there are several ways of narrowing down one’s choices of what to read. One can search based on favorite character, favorite story theme (such as drama or romance), or even on whether or not they are interested in adult rated or sexual content.

A reader may also use the “search” function at the top of the home page to locate the author of this work, who goes by the name of Deb Zorski. Using the search function to find the author will bring our intrepid fanfiction reader to Deb Zorski’s profile page (,” where they can select any of the stories she has written.

There is, however, a catch here. Deb Zorski is the author of not one, but of two stories, each of which is contained by a different fandom category. As Folsom claims in his article, “most authors tend to work in multiple genres, but over time they get aligned with one category. Not only do generic instincts pigeonhole literary works, they pigeonhole authors too (Folsom 1571).” There is no way for me, as a mere reporter, to tell whether or not Deb Zorski is particularly aligned with either the Sherlock Holmes category, or the other category in which she writes, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The realization of her writing in multiple fandoms, however, seems to break down the idea that Deb Zorski writes in one particular genre. Is her writing, in fact, a genre of it’s own, and do Deb Zorski’s two stories, apparently in two totally different fandoms, actually fall under the genre of “Deb Zorski’s stories?” seems to think that they do.

There’s a bit of a problem, however with the idea of Sherlock Holmes stories as fanfiction. As mentioned above, part of the agreed upon definition of fanfiction is “also, they are almost never professionally published (Wikipedia).” The first story in the Sherlock Holmes canon, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was published in 1887, placing the character of Sherlock Holmes, his assistant Doctor Watson, and his home at 221B Baker Street easily within the realm of the public domain. The internet community on Wikipedia defines the public domain as “an intellectual property designation for the range of content that is not owned or controlled by anyone. These materials are ‘public property’, and available for anyone to use freely for any purpose. The public domain can be defined in contrast to several forms of intellectual property (Wikipedia).” One of those ‘designations,’ as this article puts it, is literature. Sherlock Holmes, being in the public domain, is available to any author fo any purpose, free of difficulty or legal complications. It is, therefore, very possible and legal to professionally publish a work of fiction featuring Sherlock Holmes on the literary market, and to demand payment for the work. Since they can be professional published, Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as any other story written about a character or book in the public domain, may not fall under some people’s definition of fanfiction, proving that the genre has several available permutations and can be defined differently by different readers and writers.

There are those individuals[3] who argue that fanfiction is not legitimate literature, because it is essentially “cheating,” that is, using the ideas of other people in order to bypass having to come up with anything creative of your own. Fanfiction writers and readers would definitely disagree with the idea that the genre lacks creativity. As we have already seen, there are so many possible kinds of fanfiction stories, as well as several different ways to put an individual spin on the work, that pages upon pages of careful and dutifully monitored archiving are required to properly classify them. As a potential emerging future genre, fan fiction exhibits all the characteristics of being able to appeal to audiences comfortable with and interested in the phenomenon of web-based literature, and all the machinations involved in making it available to the reader.


Works Cited


"Fan Fiction." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July                        2004. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.

Folsom, Ed.  “Database as Archive: The Epic Transformation of Genre.” Source: PMLA,                     Volume 122, Number 5, October 2007, pp. 1571–1579 (9)

"Public Domain." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July                   2004. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.


[1] I’m sorry.

[2] I have not actually read these stories in their entirety, and thus cannot speak for the quality of the writing. I am not the author of this work of fanfiction, and any claims , choices, or glaring grammatical failures the author makes are his or her own.

[3] I have not yet decided whether to include myself in this category.


Sheogorath's picture

Fanfiction for sure

@ Shayna S: Sherlock Holmes stories are fanfiction in an area of legal clarity, IMHO, as opposed to Harry Potter fics, which reside in a legal grey area because of J.K. Rowling's permission and Warner Bros.'s veto.

Deb Zorski's picture

The Fanfiction Genre

If fanfiction was not a legitimate genre, as you claim, then we would not have much of the entertainment and culture today that we're so used to. Fanfictions are popularized and accepted now, unlike in the past, and many TV shows and movies are remakes or new adaptations of original source material. Long story short: hardly anything is ever original.

More importantly, if you're going to openly criticize my work in the future, have the decency to read a little further than the first page. While you're certainly entitled to your elitist opinions, your pretension is thoroughly unappreciated. After all, I graduated from college too, and consider my fanfiction to be a practice for writing longer pieces and academia. It's certainly not the epitome of my work as an author.

Anne Dalke's picture

Function in conjunction

Let me nudge you, first, on a coupla' technical issues: might we think together about how to make this essay more enticing, both visually and verbally, for your own potential "fans"?  How about spacing between paragraphs? What sort of opening line might more effectively invite in writers of fan fiction than the (somewhat dismissive?) "fanfiction is bizarre"?? Looking about, also, for an inviting image, I came across this

(which I realize--appropriately enough!--has lost its language in transferral):
"So basically, all these are pictures based on stories based on a tv show
that's a spin-off of a spin-off."
"Who says creativity is dead?"
"Of course, we're in a picture commenting on the pictures based on stories..."

So, it's curious to me that you focus so much on the archiving, organizing, "dutiful monitoring"  required to "pigeonhole" or "properly categorize" the various branches of fandom. Far more intriguing to me are the bigger questions of what is actually being produced by fan-labor: particularly the matter of how original this work is. You tag it as "original stories about unoriginal characters"; I am thinking that that category pushes hard--and quite productively-- on some of the questions (discussed so often elsewhere in this class) about re-thinking originality).

Those questions of organization on which you focus seem to sidestep the more central (to me far more interesting) questions of the potential use-value of this form. You say that "individuals argue that fanfiction is not legitimate literature, because it is essentially 'cheating'"; Shayna's response to your essay similarly highlights the "troubling," "illegitimate" label of fan fiction. What is your own view on this matter?

Mine--which I was led to a couple of years ago by a student -- is that fan fiction is a marvelous contemporary shoved-in-our-faces-by-the-internet version of
reader response theory, which argues that
* meaning is not pre-determined
* comes into existence when a text is read & responded to
* focuses on the transaction readers make with texts,
* the ways they actualize them in their own experience
* on how meaning is persistently revised as readers compare/collate their readings
* searching for common patterns, recognizing when the patterns break down.

Reading, by these lights, depends on the encounter between the heterogeneous personalities of readers, and the indeterminacy/ambiguity of language (=the space for making meaning). For my own particular take on this, published a few years ago in the interdisciplinary journal Soundings, see Why Words Arise--and Wherefore.

Shayna S's picture

Fanfiction as an Internet Phenomenon

 I'm fairly certain the origin of fanfiction is not from the internet, but the fact that the internet has become a medium of many talents probably helped fanfiction become as widespread as it is today. resembles (and it is) an archive. There is a search function and things are listed under various categories. There are also forums and comment functions for each section of fanfiction. Fanfiction may not be so much emerging as in it is beginning, but emerging as in it is growing into prominence. I believe from my experience with fanfiction, that it is very much part of the construction of various fan-communities within and without the confines of the internet.

Fanfiction, like most other genres we've discussed, is a troubling label. It has a connotation of illegitimacy, yet, using your example of Sherlock Holmes, what of the many stories "legitimately" published about the super sleuth? Because the copyright (correct me if I'm wrong) has run out on Sherlock Holmes, anyone can write and sell stories about his world. But should we call this literature fanfiction, or is this considered "canon" because of it being physically published as opposed to uploaded on a site?